By Simon King
Imagine my surprise, after six months since being knocked out of the League Cup semi-finals to Bradford at Villa Park, a Bradford fan moves next door to me, a Villa fan…in London.
I’ve turned down numerous offers to attend games: Crawley, MK Dons, Leyton Orient and most recently a trip to The New Den (having been there with Villa and seen us knocked out the FA cup I didn’t think I’d be a lucky omen). Last Friday the phone kept buzzing with texts: his missus had bailed out, did I fancy it? As I was searching online for the ticket price he caught me off guard and called: what time are we leaving?
Having watched Villa for almost 25 years it’s hard to muster support for another team, but when I woke up on Saturday I was feeling rather excited at the prospect. Rob’s Dad was down and I’d tipped them off that the White Horse, Sloney Pony to its locals, in Parson’s Green, was a decent pub to meet their mates who were on there way on the 8am train.
The pub was already full and it seemed that the Bradford fans had heard it was the place to be. We left early to soak up the atmosphere, on the way there we joked about the odds offered for Bradford to win and I patronisingly mentioned it would be nice if you could score a goal.
The Police, in their wisdom, decided to have a go at cramming 6,000 football supporters down an alleyway no wider than your average residential driveway, which could have turned nasty, but before we knew it we were through and the excitement of climbing steps, peeking through the walkway to see the pitch…and finding a toilet.
Lets face it, anyone with six away fans at Stamford Bridge can out sing Chelsea – having 6,000 you virtually own it. The Female PC who had been sent to do what the stewards couldn’t and get people to sit down appeared to be a Bradford Fan, she wore a badge and sang the words to ‘Midland Road’.
A wall of noise greeted the teams and I was starting feel the pressure, sod it, I’m here now I may as well get into it. I sang along and swore, as I usually do, at Drogba’s attempts to convince the ref he’d been shot by a lone gunman from the roof of the Mathew Harding Stand. Two goals down but strangely not over run, just silly goals, I think I saw Filipe Morais trying to motivate people on the way back to the centre circle and thinking “you’ll do for me”.
We were directly behind Jon Stead as he hit that ball into the net and chaos ensued. The female PC made a sharp exit, aware that 20 drunken blokes would now want to send their wives selfies with a singing Bradford copper.
Right place right time for Morais after the ball gets cleared from the box, calmness personified 2-2. Wouldn’t a replay be great, if only we could hang on.
There’s Stead again holding the ball up while a racing Andy Halliday smashes it the top corner, I’m kissing people, I’ve lost Rob and his Dad looks at me like I’ve turned into an Umpa Lumpa, there’s a guy on the floor with his head in his heads praying.
Seven minutes! Is he taking the mick? Here we go, any second now they’ll snatch a draw. The goal that sealed it was, as a dismal TV programme is named, Made in Chelsea. A goal Mourinho would be proud of.
When Mark Yeates took that ball towards the flag it seemed like he was about to try and run down the clock, he then clipped the ball with the outside of his right foot to Stead who seemed to have enough time to make a brew and invite three Chelsea players to stand and watch him do it. Then back to Yeates to guide the ball home.
A guy came up to me on the final whistle telling me how the previous week he’d been to Yeovil and what a difference it had been. I confessed that I was a Villa fan and after he told me that “we f**ked you over un all”. I told him I was one of you today, how I’d never seen scenes like it, and how he should be proud, he virtually licked my face with a slobbering kiss.
We’ve all had to fight to keep our kids loyal to club we were brought up on, but days like this help. I saw one little boy with the widest smile being lifted up by his Dad – it reminded me what football is meant to be like.
Down to earth with a bump, I called my missus (I should know better, she hates football) “You’ll never guess what” I said. “What, did Barnsley win?”